Tag Archives: Falklands War

Refighting the Falklands War (2012): Aircraft Carriers and air cover

The Royal Navy Invincible-class aircraft carri...

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In 1982, Britain was able to send two Aircraft Carriers to the South Atlantic – Invincible and Hermes. The Royal Navy was also safe in the knowledge that it had one more aircaft carrier close to completion – Illustrious – and another that could in theory be regenerated in the long term, Bulwark. But even then, it was felt that two flat tops was nowhere near enough.

Fast forward thirty years, and Britain is in a very perilous situation when it comes to the provision of naval air cover. The on-duty strike carrier role was retired in the SDSR, leading to the decomissioning of HMS Ark Royal, and the re-roling of Illustrious to LPH. This effectively means that Britain is unable to project air power by sea.

Retaking the Falklands without air cover would be problematic to say the least. Even if Mount Pleasant and Port Stanley runways were disabled – either by under runway munitions or Tomahawk strikes – the Islands are still well within range of Argentine jets flying from the mainland. And even though the Argentines did not replace their considerable losses in 1982, and for the most part are flying outdated airframes, their air presence would still present a considerable threat to any task force in the South Atlantic without air superiority.

The interesting thing is, that in 1982 the task force did not gain what you might term complete air superiority prior to the land campaign. The Harriers gave a very good account of themselves against anything that the Argentines could launch, but they were not able to completely prevent attacks on the landings at San Carlos, nor Exocet strikes such as that on the Atlantic Conveyor. In that respect, the 1982 campaign did show that you can win a land war without air superiority. Not that such an approach is advisable, of course.

So what alternatives are there to carrier-based air support? The Type 45 Destroyers have been much vaunted for their anti-air capability, and whilst I am not completely au faix with their technology, most commentators describe them as being very capable. The Sea Viper system could probably provide very effective defence against Argentine aircraft. Although designed as an aircraft carrier escort, without a carrier to play goalkeeper to, they could be freed up for picket duty such as the Type 42 Destroyers were in 1982. Not to digress, of course – we’ll look at Destroyers in more detail later.

We are told that Ark Royal is technically at ‘extended readiness’, but believe me, it would be a miracle if she sailed again – practically all of her fittings have been ripped out. And the Dockyard really doesn’t have the workforce the make her ready with any kind of urgency.  Added to which, the expertise and experience to operate a carrier at sea would be lacking, not to mention the fact that only a handful of Sea Harriers are in storage.

By the turn of the next decade, however, things could change dramatically. IF they come in on time and on budget, the Queen Elizabeth class carriers could be a real game changer – I wouldn’t fancy being an Argentine pilot with a naval air wing of F35′s floating in the South Atlantic, technologically far in advance of anything that the Argentines can offer up. But until then, any planning has to take place on the basis of not having carriers. In that respect what options are available? Much has been made of defence co-operation with France, but I find it hard to believe that the French would lend us Charles de Gaulle to provide air cover for a Task Force. I just can’t see French Rafale pilots risking their hides for a war that really isn’t theirs. In the same respect I cannot see the Americans getting involved to the extent of lending us a carrier.

One option that has been mooted – and it really is an outside bet – is the possibilty of somehow getting together a carrier air group from Sea Harriers in storage at Culdrose, and other Harriers that haven’t yet been sold or stripped down. In all honesty, I don’t know enough about how many there are, and how feasible this is. But I know it is something that has been discussed elsewhere, as has the possibility of Britain somehow acquiring second hand Harriers from elsewhere – perhaps India – as an interim measure if the need arose. Interesting thought, but I’m not sure its something that we could rely on. It would require a protracted conflict to give the time to get a carrier up to speed, whether that be Illustrious from the LPH role, or re-comissioning Ark Royal.

New intensity has been shed on the aircraft carrier situation by recent events since the SDSR, particularly in Libya. Although Britain managed to contribute to the NATO operation quite effectively – with air assets flying from Britain and Italy, and ships in the Med – you can bet that there will have been more than a few curses in Whitehall that we couldn’t send Ark Royal loaded with Harriers. According to unconfirmed reports, the RAF even requested the use of an Aircraft Carrier to cut down on flying time and operating costs. Whilst land-based aircraft are nice to have, they are subject to basing costs and air space and overflight issues. An aircraft carrier can go wherever it is wanted or needed. And whilst we managed ok without one, France and Italy – both much closer to Libya – still deployed theirs. In other situations,

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Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The political dimension

Before we embark on a look at whether a Falklands War could be fought in 2012, I want to add the caveat that here, we are not merely attempting to fight the last war. The Falklands is just a convenient yardstick for judging a fundamental responsibility of Government, our national ability to defend ourselves and our interests. It is, unless the French invade the Channel Islands any time soon, probably the only case in which Britain might have to act unilateraly on the world stage. What we are doing is assessing change over time, comparing 1982 to 2012. In many ways the world has moved on since 1982, so it would inevitably be a very different conflict, much the same as there is hardly likely to be another Battle of Britain any time in the forseeable future.

Any operation at such a distance is inevitably going to be a joint, ‘purple’ operation. In our discussions, I don’t want us to become too centric on any particular Arm or asset. I have no time for single-service narrowmindedness; at some point people need to grow up and consign the spectre of services attempting to out-maneouvre each other to the history books. When armed forces squabble there is only ever one winner – the Treasury.

One aspect that I neglected in my 2009 review, was that of politics – both domestic, regional and international. As Clauszwitz said, war is the pursuit of politics through other means, and this is particularly true of international crises that require military intervention. Very rarely in history have wars been fought for wars sake alone; invariably they are motivated by some kind of politics. Witness the 1982 invasion by Argentina. As this broad spectrum of politics would determine if, when and how a war might be fought, and its potential outcome, it seems only sensible to consider these important factors.

Buenos Aries

In 1982 Argentina was ruled by a military junta. Fighting a brutal internal war and locked in territorial disputes with neighbours, the Malvinas provided a suitable release valve for serious internal problems. Ostensibly, much has changed since then. But has it? Argentina is led by a person whose chief virtue is that they are the widow of the last President (Democracy, love it). Not only that, but Christina Fernandez-Kirchner has developed a reputation not only for tasteless flirting at international summits, but also  coming out with some inflamatory remarks in recent years. Althought it is tempting to think that whilst Argentina is a democracy military action is unlikely, this underestimates the importance of the Malvinas issue to the Argentine psyche – it has the ability to reduce perfectly sane people into a blithering mess. With the global economy in the situation that it is, and with the potential for social and economic unrest, the Malvina’s option is never going to be completely off  the table for Buenos Aires.

South America

In 1982 Argentina was pretty much isolated, as military dictatorships invariably tend to be. Locked in territorial disputes with neighbours, she had to retain most of her best troops to stave off a threat from Chile. In 2o12, the scene is quiet different. As a democracy Argentina is very much in from the cold, and recent years have seen something of a South American love in, with characters such as Lula and Chavez supporting Fernandez-Kirchner’s rantings. Whilst much of this is motivated by the popularity of anti-imperialist rhetoric, there have been several cases of latin american countries denying British ships access to facilities, ostensibly at the behest of Buenos Aires. This regional support would extremely unlikely to deter Argentina.

Yet, if Argentina were to unexpectedly invade the Falklands, as an agressive act without provocation, we might see support from South American countries fall away. Britain has defence links with Brazil, and whilst Chile and Argentina are getting on a lot better nowadays, again, Britain has strong links with Chile. The Argentines and Uruguayans also have underlying issues. Thus, whilst Argentina might not be as isolated as she was in 1982, an invasion would not win her any allies.

London

The current Government clearly believes that there is no threat in the South Atlantic. When posed questions in Parliament about the possiblity of another Falklands War, the Prime Minister simply replied, in a naive Rumsfeldian manner, that as Argentina is a democracy this would be unthinkable.

Putting aside the economic reasoning, the SDSR was, effectively, a 1920′s style 10 year gamble on the part of the Government. That for at least the next ten years, Britain would not have to act on her own militarily, without the aid of allies. Whilst in some respects that is true –  invariably Britain acts as part of an alliance, whether it be EU, NATO or otherwise – all the time Britain has interests around the globe, you can never quite discount the need to intervene on your own. Whilst the British Empire is no more – indeed, empires have had their day - there are still Brits around the globe who want to be British, and who deserve our protection. The problem is, that defence cuts rarely deter threats. Quite the opposite.

Crises rarely tap you on the shoulder to give you fair warning just before they explode. Even when they do, you cannot always rely on your Foreign Office to deal with them properly (ahem, Carrington). That is exactly what I am trying to get across here- in an uncertain world, the only certain thing is that you can expect the unexpected. Who foresaw the Arab Spring, and Lybia in particular? No one predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And what about the first Gulf War? The moral is very much that you cannot plan for international crises, but you can at least try to put yourself in a position to respond to most scenarios as best you can.

Any Government faced with an invasion of British territory – or any other gross affront to British interests – would be hard pressed to survive. The British public might not be quite the flag waving rabble of Charles and Di’s wedding, but I doubt very much whether any administration surrendering the Falklands would survive. Given the support for the armed forces in recent years, any pictures of  being made to lie prostate on the ground would provoke outrage. In 1982 Thatcher was able to turn things around by hook and crook, but whether that would be possible in 2012 is another matter.

Port Stanley

In 1982 the issue was very clear - the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands were British, and wanted to remain British. In that sense, Britain was acting to defend their rights of self-determination, to live under the sovereignty of their choosing. Virtually all of the Falkland Islanders are of British descent, and whilst there are allegations of Imperialism, in many cases Falklands families have been living there longer than Spanish-descended Argentines have been living in South America. Any Government abandoning the Falkland Islanders to Argentina against their will could expect to be relegated to the opposition benches pretty sharpish, particularly given the place that the Falklands holds in British culture after 1982.

The issue of citizenship, sovereignty and self-determination still remains, yet since 2009 a huge new issue has arisen – that of black gold. Huge fossil fuel reserves have been discovered in the South Atlantic off the Falkland Islands, and ownership of the territorial waters brings with it the right to explore for gas and oil. It might be a coincidence, but Argentine bluff and bluster since the discovery has increased considerably.

Lucrative natural resources have had the ability to cause war more than any other factor in the past 25 or so years. And with the global economy in the doldrums, any means of making money is going to be sought after. Any businesses looking to drill for oil in the South Atlantic will exert considerable lobbying pressure on the UK Government, and indeed on other Governments. The Government might also be more inclined to act to support oil companies, more than it would for a few thousands kelpers. The same goes for fishing rights, albeit on not such a money-spinning level.

United Nations and global opinion

The policy of the United Nations – Security Council and General Assembly – has been unequivocal in its policy on the Falklands – Britain and Argentina should resume negotiations towards a peaceful settlement. Quite how these negotations should come about, what should be negotiated and what a peaceful settlement would comprise, has never been elaborated. Thus the UN, sadly as usual, is as intransigent as it could possibly be.

Any un-mitigated invasion of the Falklands would no doubt be brought before the Security Council. Of the 5 permanent members, the UK would of course vote for action, the US and France would probably be swayed towards the British cause, however China may prove more difficult. And with the current frosty state of relations between Britain and Russia, help from that direction can probably be discounted. The chance of any resolution going through without a veto from one of the permanent 5 members seems unlikely. When we consider the rest of the membership, it is also unlikely that all of them would vote for Britain – anti-colonialism is hot political currency these days, and the non-aligned movement has gained influence in the past few years.

As a key member of the EU and NATO, Britain could in theory call on support from these quarters. However, as in 1982, I would find it hard to believe that France would lend us Charles de Gaulle, or that the US would provide AWACS for us. The best we could probably hope for is sanctions to be placed on Argentina, covert assistance with supplies and basing, and help in covering for our standing patrols, such as in the Gulf or off the horn of Africa, in order to free up slack for a Task Force. We might find ourselves in need of more Tomahawks at some point, in which case we would have to go cap in hand to the US.

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First Sea Lord – Royal Navy ‘in a very bad way’

Something of a media storm has kicked up today, over comments made by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.

In a rare example of an Admiral standing up for his services, Stanhope said:

‘How long can we go on as we are in Libya? If we do it longer than six months we will have to reprioritise forces. That is being addressed now. Certainly in terms of Nato’s current time limit that has been extended to 90 days, we are comfortable with that. Beyond that, we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities.’

Admiral Sir Jock Slater was First Sea Lord during the earlier 1998 Strategic Defence Review:

The position the First Sea Lord and the chief of staffs is very difficult indeed because if you want to retain the confidence of ministers you should not speak directly to the press about your concerns. But the fact remains that the navy is in a very bad way. The loss of Ark Royal and the Harriers was the worst decision by a government for many, many years. I think what Mark Stanhope has done is to state the obvious. You can’t carry on doing more with less.’

Naval Historian and analst Professor Andrew Lambert, of Kings College London, had this to say:

I think what the First Sea Lord has said in a very quiet and polite way is what everyone else has been saying in a very loud and aggressive way for a considerable period of time. The government has committed themselves to doing something when we have not got the equipment to do the job. The problem is the government has not got the political courage to admit they have made a mistake and as a result we are spending vast amounts of money doing things inefficiently and ineffectively. We’re getting laughed at by the French for not having a carrier off Libya. It’s hard enough when they beat us at rugby or football but when they beat us at carrier aviation it is unacceptable.’

‘It’s not the business of government to make perfect decisions all the time. It’s their business to run the country and respond to events. They have held their hands up when they got things wrong with the NHS reforms and sentencing but they seem unable to do the same with defence. It’s gone beyond a joke really. I know governments will stick to their own rhetoric but this is costing us too much and may even end up costing lives and that’s why the First Sea Lord was right to speak out because the situation is unacceptable.’

The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is either clearly living in la la land, or is secret ex-RAF officer:

‘Operations in Libya are showing how capable we are post-SDSR as a leading military power with the fourth largest defence budget in the world. We continue to have the resources necessary to carry out the operations we are undertaking and have spare capacity with the Royal Navy Cougar Taskforce which is currently on exercise in the Gulf. The SDSR is not being reopened. The Harrier has served with great distinction over a long period and in a number of theatres, but we are not bringing them back into service. Our planning assumptions remain valid and we have been able to effectively conduct missions over Libya. We are now progressing with the disposal of the Harrier force.’

planning assumptions valid? They were invalid before the ink even dried Foxy. Leading military power? Our projection doesnt back that up. And as for rourth largest defence budget? Our inventory does not back up that one either.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said:

‘This is yet another convincing argument in favour of reopening the defence review, which has not survived its first contact with world events. ‘The country will be dismayed to hear that the operation in Libya could have been conducted more cheaply and more effectively had the Government taken a different approach. ‘I hope the straight talking by the First Sea Lord will be met with some straight answers from Ministers. In particular, it is vital that Ministers tell us now how they intend to equip the mission in Libya should it go beyond the six month mark.’

Looking beyond all of the party political and and inter-service dialogue, even the most ardent Tory party card holding RAF airman would claim that the SDSR isn’t looking, in retrospect, like a pile of horse shit. Even Cameron and Fox know it, but of course politics being politics they can’t say so. Ironically, I suspect that most people would respect them more if they admitted that they had got it wrong.

There are bigger contexts to the the rapid and serious decline in the Royal Navy. Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, the Task Group Commander in the Falklands War, wrote in the Daily Mail the other day that Defence cuts would leave Britain unable to recapture the Falklands if they were taken again by Argentina.

Heres a summary of Woodward’s arguments:

  • America, whose support in 1982 was crucial, appear to support Argentina’s claim to the Islands. Even to the point of referring to them as ‘The Malvinas’ in a joint declaration with Argentina.
  • Why isn’t Cameron getting straight on the plane to Washington to demand an explanation from Obama? 253 British lives were lost defending the islands, and the islanders right to determine their own sovereignty.
  • The Mount Pleasant airbase in the Falklands is not as defendable as thought, and in any case the Argentinians would not attempt a landing without taking out the airbase first.
  • The staging post on Ascenscion Island is leased to America, whose permission we would require to use it. Without it, any sustained operations in the South Atlantic would be impossible.
  • Mount Pleasant can only offer up 3 or 4 Typhoons. The RAF is struggling to get enough Typhoons airworthy for Libya, let alone a war 8,000 miles away. With no aircover and without Mount Pleasant to rapidly reinforce the islands, we could kiss them goodbye.
  • With no carrier-borne air cover, retaking the islands would be impossible. The French are unlikely to lend us Charles de Gaulle.
  • Fundamentally, the islanders are British, and want to be British. The Argentines want them for spurious, vain domestic political reasons. The fundamental values of the UN enshrine the right to self-determination.
  • If David Cameron decides, in a crisis, that the Falklands are not worth defending, who will lose the next General Election.
  • With the new carriers and joint strike fighters not due for some years, we have to muddle through this situation for another 10 years at least.

‘As things currently stand, we’d have serious trouble defending anything much further than  the other side of the English Channel.’

Sandy Woodward was, in many ways, like Montgomery. A war-winning senior officer who rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way in doing so. And I, personally, find it very hard to argue with any of his arguments outlined here.

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HMS Invincible to leave Portsmouth for the last time

HMS Invincible, one of the Royal Navy's flagsh...

HMS Invincible in happier days (Image via Wikipedia)

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Invincible is due to leave Portsmouth for the last time later this week.

At 0800 on Thursday (24 March) she will be towed out of Portsmouth Harbour on her way to the breakers yard in Turkey. She has been laid up in No 3 Basin in the Dockyard for almost 6 years, after being decommisioned in 2005. She was sold to a Turkish shipbreaker earlier this year after an ebay-style auction. It seems she is being sold off in order to clear space for her sister ship HMS Ark Royal, who decommisioned last week.

It really is the end of an era with the departure of Invincible. She first arrived in Portsmouth in 1981 brand-new from the shipbuilders. My Dad was working in the Dockyard at the time and worked on her when she was dry-docked for the first time, apparently one of the underwater sonar transducers took an accidental dink that needed fixing.

I really hope that people turn out to mark Invincible’s departure. Amongst all of the political sprawling for brownie points with the departure of Ark Royal, we should never forget the role that she played in the Falklands War in 1982. Men died flying Sea Harriers from that ship. What a pity that the Harrier’s have been scrapped, so she cannot even get a flypast to see her off. But then again I doubt the Government or the MOD will want to make a big deal out it.

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A new HMS Protector to replace HMS Endurance

HMS PROTECTOR at anchor

The previous HMS Protector (Image via Wikipedia)

The Ministry of Defence have announced that a commercial ice-breaker will be chartered to replace the current HMS Endurance. It is expected that if the charter proves to be succesful she will be purchased and fully commissioned into the Royal Navy. This is no doubt welcome news, particularly given the antics coming out of Buenos Aires recently.

There has been no comfirmation over which ship has been selected. Rumours suggest that a Norwegian vessel working in North America is a favourite, although the MOD has refused to confirm this, stating that the tendering process has not yet been completed. A similar process was followed for the two previous HMS Endurances, which were previously MV Anita Dan and MV Polar Circle respectively.

The MOD have also announced that the new ship will be called HMS Protector. The last HMS Protector was another South Atlantic Patrol Ship, launched in 1936 and decomissioned in 1968. The last two ice patrol ships have been called HMS Endurance, so the naming is a break with recent tradition. And a very eventful tradition at that, with previous HMS Endurance being in the thick of the 1982 Falklands War, and the last Endurance being adopted by the City of Portsmouth and a very visible sign of the UK’s presence in the South Atlantic.

Warship names have always been an emotive issue. There will no doubt be protests that the world will end if the new ship is not called Endurance. Similar calls have been made that one of the new aircraft carriers should be called Ark Royal. Cities have been very precious about having warships named after them – particularly with the decomissioning of the Type 42 ‘City’ Class. One city- Sheffield – even refused to adopt a Type 45 Destroyer as it was called HMS Diamond and not Sheffield. One of the Type 22 Broadsword Frigates was called HMS London after the Lord Mayor of London requested it. How lovely – what if I fancy there being an HMS Daly? Will the Lordships oblige me? Shall we have Warship Factor, a phone-in competition to decide the names of the next class of Type 26 Frigates?

By choosing a new name, but one that has historical connections, the Navy is being very smart. The Royal Navy has a long and rich history, with literally hundreds of proud names to choose from – why use the same names over and over again? It is important to remember that the service is not just about ships but also about men. It really is a case of the King is dead, long live the King.

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30 year rule for historic records reduced to 20 years

I took this photograph myself when I went on a...

The National Archives in Kew (Image via Wikipedia)

The Ministry of Justice has announced that the current 30-year rule for historic official documents is to be reduced to 20 years.

Currently, official Government documents handed to the National Archives are closed for 30 years after they were produced. This means, for example, that documents relating to the Falklands War in 1982 are expected to become available in 2012. The exception, of course, is material that is judged to be too sensitive on national security grounds.

This is welcome news for historians, as it means that more historic records will be available for research much more quickly. According to the announcement on the ministry’s website, however, the process may take a while:

“To amend the Public Records Act to reduce the 30-year rule so that historical records are generally made available at The National Archives and other places of deposit after 20 years; this will be transitioned over a 10 year period at a rate of two years’ worth of records being transferred per year, with a view to commencing the process in 2013″

This still means however that documents relating to a whole host of events in the 1980′s will become available up to 10 years earlier than anticipated – the Falklands War, Thatcher‘s disputes with the Unions, Northern Ireland and the IRA, and possibly even documents relating to football hooliganism, Thatcher’s downfall and the first Gulf War. It has also been argued that the move will enhance transparency in Government, as ministers will only have to wait 20 years for their actions to come under scrutiny, rather than the present cushion of three decades.

Oliver Morley, Acting Chief Executive of The National Archives, said: ‘We look forward to working with government to implement these changes and will play a pivotal role in smoothing the transition for the records bodies involved.’

The move comes following a review of the 30 year rule in 2008. The 30 year rule has been increasingly redundant, as the Freedom of Information Act has made it possible for members of the public to request the opening up of material well before its 30 year closure has elapsed. This is particularly relevant with harmless and non-sensitive material that will help historians and family history enthusiasts alike.

I have also often thought that the 100 year limit on the national census returns is also excessive – might 50 years not be more sensible? I long for the day we can all access the little-known ‘wartime census’.

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The John Nott 1981 Defence Cuts revisited

British Royal Marines in the Falkland Islands ...

An image we ever want to see again? (Image via Wikipedia)

The parallels with 1982 are all to worrying. An aggressively-sounding Government in Buenos Aries (even though technically Democratic), a newly elected but unpopular Conservative Government seeking to slash public expenditure, and economic problems in both countries.

In 1982 the Secretary of State for Defence had just implemented a Defence Review the previous year. It was conducted in the context of economic problems, a Thatcher-led desire to slash budgets, and a Soviet build-up during the era of ‘reaganomics’. Nott’s solution was to concentrate almost solely on Britain’s role in NATO. The purchase of Trident was confirmed. The British Army of the Rhine, although the centrepiece of British defence within NATO, was to be limited to 55,000 men. The Royal Navy was to lose one fifth of its 60 Destroyers and Frigates. Aircraft Carriers were to be phased out, with the sale of HMS Hermes and the newly-built ‘through deck cruiserHMS Invincible. Amphibious ships were to be scrapped too, meaning the end of HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless. Essentially, the Navy was to become an anti-submarine force to operate in the North Sea, North Atlantic and the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap. The ability to act independently out of the NATO area was effectively being given up. And amongst other things, the Royal Navy Dockyards were to be drastically wound down and privatised, meaning thousands of redundancies. One of the lesser-known items in the review was the withdrawal of the antartic patrol ship, HMS Endurance.

These proposals were underway when the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982. The kind of crisis that the Nott review hard ruled out had happened. Reportedly MOD Civil Servants were most upset that the Falklands War had scuppered their beautiful review. When the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, obtained permission from Margaret Thatcher to assemble a Task Force, apparently John Nott went as white as a sheet. He knew that his career was finished. Somehow I cant help feeling that for a lot of people their careers were more important than the fate of British Citizens in the South Atlantic, and the fate of the men sent to fight for them.

The upshot of the Falklands War was that almost everything that had been offered up as savings was rescued at the eleventh hour. Hermes was sold, but the three Invincible Class Carriers -as we are allowed to call them now – were retained. Fearless and Intrepid were reprieved, and replaced with HMS Albion and Bulwark recently. HMS Ocean has also added to the Royal Navy’s expeditionary capability. Endurance was also reprieved, and replaced in the early 1990′s with a modern vessel. The Destroyer and Frigate fleet was pegged – in the short term – at 55 ships.

The cost of the Falklands War – financial, human, and material – has been far in excess of the relatively meagre savings sought by Nott. The hundreds of lives lost in 1982. The ships sunk, aircraft lost, ammunition expended. The cost of a sizeable garrison, and building a military base at Mount Pleasant. The Falklands Island has had a patrol ship,  a Frigate or Destroyer on guard, and auxiliary vessels since the war. The running cost – to this day, and still rising - must be incredible. All inspired to save a few quid. Evidence, if any is needed, that Defence cuts can be shortsighted and a false economy. Argentinian sources suggest that the decision to invade, although largely spurred on by domestic unrest, was further emboldened by the Nott cuts. The Junta’s reasoning was that if the British were cutting their forces – and the ice patrol ship in particular – not only would they be unable to respond to an invasion, but they obviously did not care about their overseas posessions enough to defend them in the first place.

Fortunately, British resolve was restored by the war. Although it is tragic that in the modern world we even need to resort to force, had Britain capitulated in 1982 we would, in Henry Leach’s words, have been living in a very different country were words counted for little. Britain’s role as a force on the world state was maintained, a brutal military dictatorship fell, and the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact received a timely reminder of the quality of NATO standard troops. But all by the skin of our teeth, and if Nott’s cuts had been fully implemented, we would have not been able to act.

Whilst Mrs Thatcher received plaudits for her handling of the Falklands War, more searching inquiries suggest that the war needn’t have happened in the first place. If only the Foreign Office under Lord Carrington had not been so clueless, the Defence Secretary not so subservient, and if Thatcher had not been so single minded and ideological in wishing to strip public spending. Worryingly, the upcoming Defence Review may once again remove Britain’s ability to react adequately to any crisis in the world, particularly in the South Atlantic. This cannot have been lost on the Argentinians. Do we really trust David Cameron and ‘Boy’ George Osborne to sort things out for us if their cuts go badly wrong?

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Royal Navy to replace Endurance?

HMS Endurance (A171) in Portsmouth

HMS Endurance in Portsmouth (Image via Wikipedia)

Today’s Portsmouth News contains an unconfirmed report that the Royal Navy is looking to replace the stricken Ice Patrol Ship HMS Endurance with a Norwegian Icebreaker for next years South Atlantic Patrol. Endurance, one of the most famous and recognisable ships in the Royal Navy, almost sank in 2008 when her engine room flooded. She has been laid up in Portsmouth since arriving back in the UK in early 2009, whilst the Navy and the Ministry of the Defence decide what to do with her.

During 2010 HMS Scott, an ocean-going survey vessel, deployed to the South Atlantic. This is not seen as a long-term solution, as she has no icebreaking capability and cannot operate helicopters in the same manner as Endurance. Also, she has her own duties to attend to. Militarily, the case for a South Atlantic Patrol Ship is not a priority for the Navy itself, but politically it would be seen as a major sign of weakness if the UK were to withdraw such a presence in the region. Earlier this year Argentina attempted to garner support from fellow South American countries for its stance over the Falklands. A proposed cut to the previous HMS Endurance precipitated the 1982 war.

With the current HMS Endurance laid up in Portsmouth and needing repairs believed to run into millions of pounds, it is likely that the Navy will seek to lease an existing icebreaker, probably from a Scandinavian source. This has been done in the past, when in 1967 the Navy purchased the MV Anita Dan from a Danish shipping line and renamed her HMS Endurance, and in 1991 when the Norwegian MV Polar Circle was chartered for eight months. She was later purchased outright and became second HMS Endurance. Leasing a ship before purchase enables the Navy to evaluate its suitability, especially for service in the ice. Any merchant vessel, however, will need to be adapted to Naval damage control standards, and will have to be able to operate helicopters.

Officially nothing has been decided, and it is likely that  an announcement will come as part of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Defence Review.

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Fast Jet flying club?

Major-General Sir Hugh Trenchard as Chief of t...

Sir Hugh Trenchard, the first Chief of the Air Staff and a former Major-General (Image via Wikipedia)

One of the most common accusations levelled at senior commanders is that once they reach high command, they ‘look after their own’, based on their earlier experience. This is hardly surprising – if a young man joins a service as a teenager, and spends 40-odd years serving within it, being infused with the deepest traditions of it, of course its going to leave a mark. But is this tribalism helpful in them modern, purple-operations era?

It was noticeable during the Falklands War that more than a few of the Naval Commanders concerned were ex-submariners – Fieldhouse, Woodward, and more than a few of the Task Force’s captains. This prominence of the submariner was probably due to the importance of the Submarine to the Cold War Navy. Previous times had seen the Fleet Air Arm provide many senior officers. As for the Army, there have been phases there too – Infantrymen, Guardsmen, and Gunners. Mike Jackson became the first CGS from the Paras.

Yet the RAF has, allegedly, had a lot less diversity than the other forces. The frequent accusation is that nothing more than a ‘fast jet flying club’, thanks to most of its commanders being former fighter pilots. But is this the case? And how does it compare to the other services?

Chiefs of the Air Staff

Lets look at the evidence. These are the last eight Chiefs of the Air Staff, and their backgrounds:

Stephen Dalton – Jaguars and Tornados; Director General Typhoon, Deputy CinC Air Command

Glenn Torpy – Jaguars and Tornados; Air Component Op Telic, Chief of Joint Operations

Jock Stirrup – Jaguars and Phantoms; Deputy CDS (Equipment)

Peter Squire – Hunters and Harriers; Assistant CAS, CinC Strike Command

Richard Johns – Hunters and Harriers; CinC Strike Command, Commander Allied Forces NW Europe

Michael Gaydon – Hunters and Lightnings; CinC Support Command, CinC Strike Command

Peter Harding – Wessex; Vice CDS, CinC Strike Command

David Craig – Meteors and Hunters; CinC Strike Command

Interesting stuff indeed. Apart from one, all have a background in fast jets. The RAF’s limited career structure precludes officers moving around within the service, too. How come no-one who has had a career flying, say, the Hercules or Chinook has made it to the top level of RAF command? Would an ex-Chinook pilot be more inclined to joint operations than an ex-fighter pilot? Interesting as well that the current Chief of the Air Staff spent some time as Director General of the Eurofighter programme…

First Sea Lords

Lets take a look at the backgrounds of the First Sea Lords during the same period:

Mark Stanhope – Submarines, Frigate, Aircraft Carrier; Deputy SACEUR (transformation), CinC Fleet

Jonathan Band – Minesweeper, Frigate, Aircraft Carrier; CinC Fleet, MOD appointments

Alan West – Frigate; Chief of Defence Intelligence, CinC Fleet

Nigel Essenhigh – Destroyers; Assistant CDS (programmes), CinC Fleet

Michael Boyce – Submarines, Frigate; 2nd Sea Lord, CinC Fleet

Jock Slater – Frigate, Destroyer, Aircraft Carrier; CinC Fleet, Vice CDS

Benjamin Bathurst – Fleet Air Arm, Frigates; CinC Fleet, Vice CDS

Julian Oswald – Frigate, Destroyer; Assistant CDS, CinC Fleet

The spread of experience is a lot broader here – not only overall, as First Sea Lords come from a variety of backgrounds, but also individual officers seem to have broader experience too. For example, a submariner has to command surface ships if he wishes to progress further in the Navy, as do pilots. This saves officers being compartmentalised in their experience and skills base. Commanders of escorts and of carriers will know a great deal about aviation, thanks to flying One notable absence, however, is amphibious warfare – no First Sea Lord’s in recent history have commanded a landing ship.

Chiefs of the General Staff

David Richards – Royal Artillery, Armoured Brigade; ARRC (inc ISAF), CinC Land

Richard Dannatt – Green Howards, Armoured Brigade; ARRC, CinC Land

Mike Jackson – Intelligence Corps/Parachute Regiment, Belfast Brigade; ARRC (inc KFOR), CinC Land

Mike Walker – Royal Anglian Regiment, Armoured Brigade; ARRC, CinC Land

Roger Wheeler – Royal Ulster Rifles, Armoured Brigade; GOC N. Ireland, CinC Land

Charles Guthrie – Welsh Guards, SAS, Armoured Brigade; 1 Br Corps, BAOR

Peter Inge – Green Howards, Armoured Brigade; 1 Br Corps, BAOR

John Chapple – Gurkhas, Gurkha Brigade; Deputy CDS, CinC Land

Once again, its clear that senior Army officers have a more diverse background than their Airships. Admittedly, they are all infantrymen apart from David Richards, but in turn most of those infantrymen have either commanded armoured units, or served with the SAS or Parachute Regiment. There has for a long time been a ‘one size fits all’ attitude within the Army, and its by no means unknown for an Engineer to command an Infantry Brigade, or a non-airborne officer to command the air assault brigade. Notice as well how the centre of gravity in the Army changed from the British Army of the Rhine to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and as a result they have gained experience of NATO commands, peacekeeping and so-on. In general there has been more real ‘action’ – N. Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

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Latest Falklands News: naval encounter and sub deployment

Something new crops up regarding the latest Falklands crisis every day, so until the situation calms down I ‘m going to give a daily analysis of the news.

It has emerged that on 28 January HMS York, the Royal Navy’s South Atlantic guardship, intercepted an Argentinian Navy Corvette that was approaching the area where exploratory drilling has recently started. The Drummond, a veteran of the 1982 Falklands War, apparently made an ‘innocent navigation error’, 10 miles inside the oil exploration area. HMS York radioed across and ‘encouraged’ her to change course. This incident can be seen in two ways – either the Argentine Navy’s seamanship is very poor, or they are acting provocatively. Much as Soviet and now Russian jets test UK airspace, perhaps Argentin was hoping to provoke a flashpoint?

In other navalnews, the Royal Navy today confirmed that a submarine has been deployed to the South Atlantic. Normally Submarine deployments are kept secret, so this news will have been made public as a clear signal to Buenos Aires. In all likelihood it is a Nuclear Attack Submarine carrying torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. In 1982 the Black Buck Vulcan raids demonstrated to Argentina that British forces had the ability to strike at any point in Argentina. Only with Tomahawk there is much less risk and more precision. And the Argentine Navy will remember very well how after HMS Conqueror sunk the Belgrano their ships were virtually bottled up in port.

In political news Argentina’s Foreign Minister met today with the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, to press for support over the Falklands issues. Although the Foreign Minister emerged from the meeting uttering the same soundbites as other Argentinian leaders have recently, there has been a telling silence from Ban and the UN. Hopefully he is far too clever and impartial to be drawn into what is essentially South American power-play politics.

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More bluff and bluster over Falklands

Reportedly Argentina is seeking a meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, over the Falklands Oil crisis.

The Argentinian Government has been conducting an aggressive diplomatic offensive in recent days, every bit as aggressive as their 1982 invasion. To seek to talk to the UN Secretary-General rather than put the issue before the General Assembly or Security Council is underhand. The fundamental principle of the United Nations is self-determination, the right of people to choose their own form of Government. The people of the Falkland Islands choose to be British. Until the change their minds, to agigate against their wishes is aggression.

A summit of South American leaders urged Argentina and Britain to “renew negotiations in order to find in the shortest time possible a just, peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute”. Funnily enough, it was Argentina who walked out of negotiations, only to cause a fuss now that it suits her. Argentina’s track record over the Falklands cannot be ignored, even since 1982 there has been the shadow of Argentinian threats to regain the Islands. All the time these exist, how can negotiations take place?

Brazilian President Lula da Silva, normally one of South America’s more sensible leaders, excelled himself with “What is the geographic, the political or economic explanation for England [sic] to be in Las Malvinas? Could it be because England is a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council [where] they can do everything and the others nothing?” Aside from referring to the UK as England, and showing a Janet and John level of understanding of the relationship between the UK and the Falklands, Lula’s comments have more to do with Brazil’s desire to be seen as a serious world power herself. There is a reason why the UK is a permanent member of the Security Council – aside from a few notable examples (Suez and Iraq spring to mind) the UK has by and large been a force for good in the modern world.

As I have frequently commented, the effects of Empire are all over South America. Is President Lula feeling guilty about how his Portuguese ancestors came to Brazil? The British Empire no longer exists, and the UK Government clearly has no desire to ‘hold on’ to any territory that wants independence – witness the withdrawal from Empire post-1945, and the handing back of Hong Kong in 1997. Frankly, the attempt to whitewash Britain as an Imperial power does not wash.

The sad thing is, it seems that South America’s leaders are behaving more imperialistically than Britain has for many years. The Falklands issue has found itself hijacked by the bigger issues of South American power-play.

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Argentina claims regional support over Falklands

Argentina has claimed to have gathered support from other South American countries for its stance over the Falkland Islands, according to BBC News.

At a regional summit in Mexico a document has reportedly been drafted giving Argentina unanimous support. No official statement has been made, but the President of Mexico has reportedly said a document had been drawn up offering Buenos Aires full support in its territorial dispute with London. This regional support is hardly surprising, and has come with the usual anti-imperialist soundbites.

Cristina Kirchner, the Argentinian President, has apparently said that “I think the important thing is that we have achieved very strong support, something that legitimates our claims fundamentally against the new petroleum activity.” How somebody who happens to be the wife of the last President can claim any kind of legitimacy or expect to be taken seriously is beyond me. Also, it hasn’t been made clear exactly what international law has been violated by Britain.

Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, said “Mrs Queen of England, the empires are over”. Clearly Mr Chavez’s grasp of history, british politics and indeed of democracy are slightly weak. The British Empire ended years ago. The people on the Falkland Islands want to be British, how they got there is immaterial. Is Mr Chavez going to hand Venezuela back to the Indigenous Venezuelan Indians?

The majority of people in South America, and certainly those who find themselves in power, are the descendants of the Spanish Empire. If they are advocating that the Falkland Islanders should be shipped home, shouldn’t they all go home to Spain too? Like it or not, the effects of Imperialism are a reality, and the make up of modern South American is exactly the same.

One cannot help but feel that the rumblings coming from Buenos Aires are being caused by two factors. Firstly, the economic and political situation is leading the Argentine Government to exploit the age-old Falklands factor to divert attention away from their own domestic failings. Secondly, Buenos Aires is unhappy about having to eat humble pie over the oil issue. They may make noises about Britain not negotiating or acting unilaterally, but in 2007 they withdrew from talks over the sharing of oil revenue. Now, when it seems that there is money to be made, they want a slice of the pie. I cannot help but think that this recent crisis is not so much about the Islands per se, but about Argentinian domestic factors and oil. Argentina is being less than altruistic in this.

Given the staunch support of the UK for recent US Foreign policy, including unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it might be expected that the US Government will support the British stance. However, with Barack Obama’s somewhat cooler approach to the special relationship, and a desire to engage more with regional governments, the UK might not be able to expect as much support as it received in 1982.

So where does this leave Britain? Clearly, in a very dangerous position. Argentina will feel emboldened by the support they have received from their neighbours – they are not as isolated as in 1982. But economically and militarily, Argentina is unlikely to act. All the same, it is important that the Foreign Office works hard to garner support, particularly from the US and the EU countries.

Theodores Roosevelt’s adage ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ still holds firm – it might not be a bad idea, if possible, to send an extra warship or two down south to patrol the drilling area. We might not have many ships available, but the deployment of one or two now might save a bigger headache later. The biggest mistake the British Government made in 1982 was not acting decisively over the South Georgia incident.

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British Forces in the Falklands

With the amount of press recently about the latest Falklands crisis, I thought it might be timely to take a look at the British Forces that are currently deployed on the Falklands. Notice I say currently – despite the Sun’s screaming headline, all of the warships below are already ‘down south’, none have sailed south as any kind of task force. The Navy, Air Force and Army deployments below are all standing deployments.

HMS Clyde is the Royal Navy’s Falklands Patrol Vessel. She displaces 1,850 tons and has a crew of 36. It has a flight deck that can accommodate Merlin-sized Helicopters. Armament wise Clyde is hardly bristling, with a 30mm Gun, two Miniguns and 2 GPMG’s. Her real value is in giving a presence in the South Atlantic, and being able to transport boarding parties. HMS Scott is very much a stand-in. An Ocean Survey vessel, she is deployed in the South Atlantic to cover for the damaged HMS Endurance. She weighs in at 13,000 tons, and although she carries no armament and cannot operate helicopters, she does provide a presence in some of the further south parts of the Falklands area. HMS York is a Batch 3 Type 42 Destroyer. although rather old she does carry a 4.5inch Gun, Sea Dart Anti-air missiles and a Lynx Helicopter. Type 42′s were used as advanced radar pickets in 1982. RFA Wave Ruler is a fast fleet tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and is on station to replenish warships in the area.

4 Eurofighter Typhoons are based at RAF Mount Pleasant to provide Air Defence. They are far in advance of anything that the Argentine Air Force can offer. To support them a VC10 tanker is also based at Mount Pleasant, which means that the Typhoons can spend longer in the air. A Hercules is also on station to provide transport and patrol functions. 2 Sea King Search and Rescue Helicopters complete the air line-up.

The main ground fore consists of an Infantry Company, which is rotated regularly. An Engineer Squadron is also based on the islands, along with other supporting troops, such as Signals and Logistics. A Royal artillery Rapier Detachment is based at Mount Pleasant and will be crucial – based permanently on the islands, their radars will be well-adjusted to the conditions. Finally, the Falkland Islands Defence Force is a local, volunteer force of Falkland Islanders.

The Ministry of Defence maintains a Joint Rapid Reaction Force for quick deployment to trouble spots globally. Any reinforcement of the Falklands would come from this pool. The Navy maintains a Frigate or Destroyer at high readiness, and several more would also be available. An Aircraft Carrier, currently HMS Ark Royal, is normally earmarked for quick deployment. And although submarine deployments are routinely kept secret, an SSN or two in the South Atlantic would severely hamper the Argentine’s room for manoeuvre. Air reinforcement would include extra air defence assets. The air bridge via Ascension would enable more Infantry and Air Defence Artillery to be deployed very quickly.

Given the political-economic situation, it is unlikely – but not impossible – that the Argentinians would risk another full-scale war. But we live in uncertain times, and as I have commented recently, any struggling Buenos Aires Government looks to exploit the Falklands as a diversion. Initial problems are likely to be possible interference with oil drilling and with British ships in the Falklands Islands waters. Ships will need to patrol confidently to ‘stake out’ possible areas of conflict, and patrol vessels are far better suited for this than Destroyers. The typhoons are a serious deterrent, but the defence of their airfield will also be crucial. In conclusion, there are probably enough forces on and around the islands to deter the Argentines from risking a conventional invasion.

Therefore it seems likely that the role of the armed forces in the present crisis will be low intensity in nature – protecting the integrity of territorial waters, and providing enough of a ‘big stick’ to back up diplomatic moves.

No doubt the heads of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will attempt to make great capital out of this current crisis. Whilst we have to look on this favourably as something that will inform debate, the risks are that the Admirals in particular will take things out of context. At this point the oil crisis seems to make a case for smaller, hard-hitting patrol ships.

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Falklands then and now: The Reckoning

After looking at the military aspects of any future war between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, it’s now time to try and pull together and form some kind of conclusion.

I have enjoyed the discussions I have had here and elsewhere immensely, and in most cases the contributions that people have made have helped shape my own thoughts on the subject. Apart from the odd snobby comment the series has been very well received. I’m glad to have been able to make my own small contribution to debate over defence issues.

I selected the Falklands War for a case study not only because it has become tedious every time someone says ‘we could not fight another Falklands’, but as a historical example of a challenging tri-service operation it provides us with a relatively sound basis for comparing then and now. If we want to know where we are going, we need to be aware of where we are and where we have come from.

Key points

With a weaker Aircraft Carrier fleet and the retirement of the Sea Harrier any task force would struggle for air defence, in terms of numbers and effectiveness. Light Carriers proved their worth in 1982. A dedicated Naval Fighter is crucial. Without it we are lacking a layer of air defence.

The Royal Navy now has a stronger and more flexible Amphibious Warfare flotilla, and is geared up towards expeditionary warfare. However with inadequate air defence would it be possible to win sufficient air superiority to safely deploy it?

The number of Destroyers and Frigates has been cut dramatically. It is very unlikely that the Royal Navy could put together a big enough fleet to escort a task force as in 1982. There are also fewer classes of ship. The Type 45 Destroyers promise much, but there are too few of them and they are as yet unproven.

The cutting of the RFA to minimal levels means that the Royal Navy could almost certainly not operate a large task force at distance from the UK and without friendly bases – the scenario that was faced in 1982.

The Merchant Navy has also shrunk dramatically, to the point where it could not offer anything like the support that it did in 1982. Given also the pitiful state of the RFA, this makes the logistical support of any task group virtually impossible.

Whilst submarines proved to be crucial in keeping the Argentine Navy at bay in 1982, in 2009 the Royal Navy has a lot less boats available, and no diesel-electrics. However they do possess a useful strategic weapon in Tomahawk.

British Land Forces as a whole are leaner but meaner than in 1982, and also better equipped. Virtually all British units have seen service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Overstretch and deployments would limit what troops would be available.

The RAF no longer possesses a long range Bomber like the Vulcan. This however would be negated by Tomahawk. Helicopter support for the Land Forces would be crucial. Apaches also offer a useful new capability.

Command systems are much more flexible than in 1982, and much more geared up to ‘out-of-area’ operations.

Final Thoughts

So although there are some pretty depressing negatives, there are some positives to take from this analysis: some new and improved capabilities such as Tomahawk, more experienced and better equipped troops, and a better command system and culture.

However compared to these positives, the negatives are overpowering. With weaker air defence a task force would be much more vulnerable, particularly in the amphibious phase. The critical lack of Destroyers and Frigates would leave gaps in our anti-air, anti-surface and gunfire support roles. But the state of the RFA and the Merchant Navy might make the launching of any task force a non-starter simply due to an ability to maintain it logistically. It is hard to see the point of having such a strong Amphibious group if we are unable to protect it or to maintain it.

Against this background, the next natural step is to question what exactly the Government intends for British Defence policy. Effectively British Forces rely on friendly sea based air cover, and allied Destroyers and Frigates to assist in escorting and air defence. The Royal Navy is also reliant on friendly logistical support. While the Government espouses a Global Defence policy, the Royal Navy is effectively unable to operate Globally due to a lack of resources.

It could be said that another Falklands – or indeed any scenario like it – is unlikely. That is probably accurate, for all I know. But who saw the first Falklands War coming? Who could have predicted 9/11? Whilst we cannot plan for every eventuality, we can look back at history and see what can go wrong if we leave ourselves inflexible to changing world situations. It would be hard to argue that British defence policy is not facing a very serious phase in the next couple of years.

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Falklands then and now: Command and Leadership

In 1982, the primacy of the Royal Navy was clear. The Task Force came about largely because the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, over-rode the objections of the Army and RAF and insisted that it should be attempted. As the conflict was dependant on the Navy to carry it out, command was placed within existing Royal Navy structures. The Task Force Commander was Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet based in Northwood.

In other respects, however, the arrangement was rather ad-hoc. In some respects, there was an almost dangeorus lack of understanding, clash of personalities and unwielding lines of command. The British armed forces learnt many lessons from how command coped in the Falklands, and this led to new systems and structures that were perfected from the first Gulf War onwards.

The picture in 1982

Brigadier Julian Thompson and Major-General Jeremy Moore conferring

Brigadier Julian Thompson and Major-General Jeremy Moore conferring

In 1982 senior appointments and command systems were focussed on Britain’s role within NATO. Independent operations outside of NATO and without allies were thought extremely unlikely.

The Commander of the Battle Group, Rear-Admiral Sandy Woodward, fell into the role rather than being chosen, as his flotilla was exercising off Gibraltar when the crisis blew up. He was a Submariner Officer, who had spent a matter of weeks onboard Aircraft Carriers during his career. If he hadn’t been on the spot it is likely that a more senior, Aircraft Carrier or Amphibious specialist would have been appointed.

In other respects the command system was rather untidy – to this day, Woodward insists that he was the senior commander in the South Atlantic, whereas Julian Thompson (3 Commando Brigade) and MiKe Clapp (Commodore Amphibious Warfare) feel that they ALL were equal and reported back to John Fieldhouse in Britain. This could have resulted in serious problems. That such senior officers were unclear of who commanded who is rather worrying.

The submarines, meanwhile, were commanded directly from Britain, in the same manner as if they were in the North Atlantic. This left Woodward, an ex-Submarine Commander himself, out of the loop completely and unable to control one of the key components of the Task Force. The time taken communicating over the Belgrano issue could have led to her slipping away.

The picture in 2009

Structure of the Permament Joint Headquarters (PJHQ)

Structure of the Permament Joint Headquarters (PJHQ)

After the end of the Cold War, doctrine and experience has led to a more flexible culture and structure of command, less on any predictable enemy or threat and more able to react quickly and flexibly to crises.

As a result of the lessons learnt during the Falklands War, a Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) was set up, to command all three armed services during combined operations. This is a more permanent and more professional arrangement than previously, whereby the Armed service that was most involved in an operation commanded on an ad hoc basis. As such any Argentine invasion could be met with an immediate response by the PJHQ who could go to work immediately.

The Royal Navy itself has fine tuned its command system and its structure. The Chief of Joint Operations at PJHQ would perform the function that Admiral Fieldhouse did in 1982 as the British-based command of the Task Force, and the Commander UK Maritime Forces, a Rear-Admiral, would probably be deployed as the senior Commander in theatre. The Carrier Strike Group and Amphibious Group both have Commodores commanding them who would deploy as well. The Commander UK Amphibious Forces, a Royal Marines Major-General, would likely command the Land Forces as in 1982, with the Brigadiers of the specific Brigades – Army or Marines – underneath him.

Conclusion

In 1982 the command arrangements for the Task Force were largely improvised specifically for the conflict, as it fell outside the remit of the existing structures and there were no permanent arrangements for commanding joint operations. This was also reflected in the broader culture within the armed forces.

Despite their ad-hoc nature the arrangements worked well, although there were problems – particularly the lack of understanding between the Battle Group Commander and the Amphibious Commanders, and the control of Submarines in theatre. Commanders in theatre also had limited independence, and ultimate command rested in Britain. With the limited technology of the day, this made communication difficult.

Lessons were clearly learnt, as in 2009 the Armed Forces have an integrated system for co-ordinating joint operations, that has worked well in recent conflicts. This would be able to swing into action the minute any Task Force were required. The value of a familiar and dedicated staff team in taking action would be considerable. Modern statellite technology would enable swifter communication and decision making.

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